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Northern News Services Online

Friday, August 10, 2007

Flawed funding

The territorial government isn't playing fair with not-for-profit agencies operating in the North.

A recent study led by the YWCA - which included the Tree of Peace, the Salvation Army, the NWT Council for Persons with Disabilities and the Yellowknife Association for Community Living - concluded employees at these organizations are underpaid.

They receive salaries and benefits totaling just 59 per cent of what territorial workers in similar positions earn.

Arlene Hache, of the Centre for Northern Families, said this difference amounts to about $30,000 annually in the case of a family support worker.

To make matters worse, the GNWT is constantly creating new positions within the public sector that completely mirror job descriptions at these frontline service providers.

Currently these organizations estimate they are short 20 people due to the ongoing wage gap and their inability to fend off government recruiters.

Finance Minister Floyd Roland acknowledges employees with these vital community groups earn less than their territorial counterparts.

He blames escalating union contracts for the high government wages while also pointing a finger at the community groups themselves, suggesting they have been authors of their own dilemma.

"We were told as a government they could do the job cheaper and better... If we match GNWT salaries and benefits should the government not just be doing it ourselves?" he said.

We agree community groups, like the YWCA, can do a superior job delivering these all-important services than the already bloated public service, but they shouldn't be forced to do it on the backs of their dedicated employees.

Administrative costs, which are never low in government, are where savings could be realized without sacrificing the operational side of these groups.

Roland has blinders on if he doesn't see the problems this wage difference creates for the people of Yellowknife and the whole of the NWT.

First off, community groups will face constant turnover as their new hires get tired of earning less than their neighbours.

The services these people provide are usually aimed at the most vulnerable in our society. Most experts agree that continuity of care and dealing with the same individuals over an extended period are among the biggest factors in keeping those already on the edge from slipping through the cracks altogether.

Second, if service groups can't compete for the best workers it will mean those who form the backbone of our social safety net will come North green, with little to no actual work experience.

The affected not-for-profits say they have applied to the GNWT to have their funding increased so they can pay competitive rates, but Roland coyly insists that's up to the business planners.

Well Mr. Roland, we've got some news for you: As the minister of finance, you are supposed to be the lead business planner.

The government is treating these services like goods to be bought for the cheapest price. Any contracts for human services should dictate proper salary levels. Competition must be based on administration, not lowest standards of delivery.

Showing our true face
Editorial Comment
Roxanna Thompson
Deh Cho Drum
Thursday, August 09, 2007
Rumours flying around the village of Fort Simpson were confirmed on Aug. 3 when news of the Prime Minister's visit became official.

Yes, barring a change of plans, Stephen Harper was scheduled to visit the community on Aug. 8.

With the visit, Harper was set to become the latest in a growing line of officials and dignitaries that have stopped by the village. The most recent guests have included Canada's Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean during Aboriginal Day last year and Margaret Trudeau, the wife of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, during the Keepers of the Water Gathering last September.

Although the reason behind the Prime Minister's visit and what he will say or announce will undoubtedly be commented on by a variety of people, these visits by officials with impressive titles are almost all the same.

The official flies into the airport, gets whisked away to some location in the village, meets with a few people such as the mayor and chiefs, makes a few public comments and mingles with some of us commoners before being whisked back to the airport and on to their next destination.

It's not that these visits aren't exciting because they certainly are. The visits provide lots of fodder for conversation. It's also a feather in Fort Simpson's cap to have so many people visiting and bringing the village to the attention of the larger, national audience.

It's just that what the visitors do, in this case the Prime Minister, is almost less important than what they don't do.

It all comes down to this: visiting dignitaries are presented with the polished version of Fort Simpson. They are taken to see all of the bright spots including the Papal grounds and the Visitors' Information Centre. They are also often presented with a shining example of the local youth in the form of the Kole Crook Fiddlers.

The same thing probably happens at every other small community the officials visit. It's only natural for people to want to show off the best parts of their hometown.

The only problem with these milk and honey tours is that they have people leaving with the impression that things couldn't be better in the village. It would be nice if this were true but it isn't.

Maybe the standard for these visits, especially ones by someone with real power such as the Prime Minister, should be based on what the average resident would like the leader of the country to know about.

What is it that the average resident of any Deh Cho community would like to say to the Prime Minister?

If Harper were sitting at your breakfast table or perched on your couch would you want to discuss the most scenic areas your community has to offer, or bring up the things your community really needs?

Probable topics could include creating more job opportunities in Northern communities so adults can work and young people have a reason to stay. There's also the question of housing and whether what we have is healthy to live in and if we need more to meet demand.

Other conversations could cover the cost of services such as hydro and heat or even how climate change is affecting practical things such as ice bridge seasons.

The next time someone with a big title and some power to make changes comes to visit, the focus of the trip should be less on what we can do for them and more on what they can do for us.

Bad apples
Editorial Comment
Dez Loreen
Inuvik News
Thursday, August 09, 2007

Let's cut everything else and get straight into this: I have mucho beef with some people in this town.

When someone uses the term bad apples, they're usually referring to young people. Sure we have some troubled youth who need more constructive things to do with their time, but there are also older people out there causing mischief.

It seems like a daily occurrence for me to get accosted by some street person who smells too nice for their own good.

You all know the scent I'm referring to, the crisp, cutting smell of mouthwash. Man, I don't get the appeal, but it seems to do the job. I've never seen anyone stagger like that woman at a local business.

I just don't get how some people came upon such hard times, such a ditch in their progression that they couldn't get back out.

I think it was some time last week when the line was drawn for me.

See, I don't have the kind of sympathy for their sort that other people in town seem to carry. I can't see past their state and give them money.

I can't harbour them and listen to their drunken ramblings, as entertaining as they are on occasion.

A handful of people spend all their time on the streets of Inuvik, or under NorthMart, behind the bank, nestled under utilidors. I'm sure most of you know these people - probably went to school with them and saw their decline in life.

One day, you're dropping out from Samuel Hearne, the next, you find yourself sipping cheap sherry from a cut off two-litre bottle.

I don't know what they did to get where they are, but we need to make sure that we don't send any more of our people to the same fate.

We have youth in our community that find joy in destroying property. We have people in town that need to write their name on anything. We have hordes of kids roaming the streets at night.

The youth are winning the war and all we can do is keep catering to them. Make a bigger skate park, fix those basketball nets. It all gets done, yet we get no reciprocation from the young generation in town.

Why don't we see youth painting fences, like Tom Sawyer? I am getting tired of taking photos of broken playground equipment and vandalized property.

There has to be a barrier between the older street people and our other generations.

I know that there are countless people working hard to help those streeter dwellers, but it seems like their work goes in vain.

Even just today, I was confronted by a drunken woman at NorthMart. I see her as a missed opportunity. I want that image in my head for the rest of my life, so I can keep applying pressure to the community, to help those who need it.

Somewhere during that woman's life, she ran into obstacles. A hurdle that she couldn't overcome on her own. Now she sleeps where society will let her.

As a young person, I see the youth as the future. With the provisions like the skate park, the pool, numerous playgrounds and day camp programs, I think the older people have done enough for now.

If the young people aren't ready to make a contribution to the community, then all this work was wasted.

Keep the young generations on a short leash and on the straight and narrow. It will work out in the end and we can all be happy.

Victim of its own success
Editorial Comment
Darrell Greer
Kivalliq News
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

It will be interesting to see how the pilot program for recycling beverage containers plays out in Rankin Inlet.

While we support the initiative and hope it proves successful, there are some concerns associated with it.

In fact, the project could actually prove to be a victim of its own success.

Should the entire $37,000 be paid out for returned containers, the hamlet may find two shipping containers and leftover space at the six-bay garage inadequate to hold the returns.

That would leave piles of aluminum and glass outside the garage and, by winter's end, much of that would be spread back into the community by some of our local youth.

Of course, crushing, shredding and stacking the containers is an option to ensure adequate space, but that would be either an added expense for the hamlet or reduced hours for the employee hired to run the program.

The money has to come from somewhere and it's usually the little guy who bleeds the first drops.

The second concern is if those among us who are a bit more, shall we say, industrious, ask themselves why they should walk around the hamlet picking up all those aluminum nickels when there's plenty to be had at the dump.

A few hours cleaning them up (dirty containers won't be accepted) and, presto, an instant pile of nickels.

Our biggest concern is the, seemingly, lack of planning by the government surrounding the initiative.

On the surface, it looks like the komatik may be ahead of the dog.

The future may show it would have made more sense for the government to have enacted legislation, or struck a municipal agreement with another jurisdiction for a deposit fee, before starting the project.

There are no such agreements currently in place.

Even when it comes to barge orders, people who order pop or other beverages of choice pay a deposit fee at the point of purchase.

But, there are no reciprocal agreements with these jurisdictions.

Since the government has no capacity to collect a deposit, money is being paid out with nothing coming back in return - except, hopefully, three communities that end up a little lighter on the garbage side of the ledger.

The hamlet of Rankin Inlet may be taking a novel approach to solving the problem in its own backyard.

The hamlet may look into the legalities and dynamics of a new bylaw that would create its own deposit program.

There may be a way for the hamlet to, for example, put a nine cent deposit fee on beverages purchased in the community, with five cents being given back to consumers when they return the empty containers.

The other four cents would go towards administering the program.

It's a creative approach that could pay dividends in the long run.

But, for now, while we're all for a workable recycling project, it remains to be seen what the cost will be to Rankin when it comes time to send the containers south.

Hopefully a palatable deal will be found.

If not, this is one pilot project that will be canned in record time.